Review: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Published by Candlewick Press (2013)
Ages 8-12

My Rating: 5 Stars

I’d wanted to read something by Kate DiCamillo for a few months. Her name and face kept popping up all over the place. It makes sense, seeing as she was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015. When it came down to choosing which book to read first, I simply couldn’t resist the one with a young girl and a flying squirrel on the cover.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a middle-grade novel about ten-year old Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described “natural-born cynic.” Her parents are divorced, and Flora feels alone in the world. She lives with her mother, a distracted romance novelist. Flora only sees her father on the weekends and misses the special bond they had reading comic books together. Flora’s favorite comic book, The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!, helps her make sense of a seemingly crazy world. When a squirrel is surprisingly sucked up by the neighbor’s vacuum cleaner, Flora Belle runs to the rescue. What follows are a whole lot of “unanticipated occurrences” that change Flora and everyone around her. Would you find reasons to hope if your champion was a flying superhero squirrel who writes poetry? I sure would.

Kate DiCamillo has been called a master storyteller. It’s a well-deserved description. What makes Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures special is that it addresses tough issues, like loneliness and divorce, with a sense of humor.

There is so much love in this book. The way that Ulysses feels passionately about life after being born anew as a superhero squirrel is genuinely heartwarming. His love of poetry and love of Flora make it seem like anything is possible.

Another element that enriches the story is Flora’s discovery of friendship with William Spiver, a quirky kid who is in many ways a mirror for Flora’s loneliness. His quirks annoy her, but she can’t help but find comfort in his presence. He chips away at her cynicism, while the larger story elements propel her toward hope.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a journey of discovery. A young girl in a mixed-up world discovers that not everything is what it seems to be. She is loved, and sometimes, it’s okay to have hope.

The comic-book elements, illustrated by K.G. Campbell, are integral to the story – and they’re funny – making the book an excellent choice for younger or more reluctant readers.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is the winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal.

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